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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Dec 02, 2007 - 01:17 AM Archive

music by George Stiles book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe.

Watermill Theatre To 5 January 2007.
Mon-Sat various dates 10.30am, 2.30pm, 7pm also 23 Dec 2.30pm.
no performance 24-25 Dec.
BSL Signed 20 Dec.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 December.

Honk!’s a hoot.

Like its central character, Ugly, this George Stiles/Anthony Drewe musical has swum back to its birthplace; the Watermill - it’s virtually a site-specific piece at a theatre outside which ducks sit contemplating the passing stream. And Steven Dexter’s lively production, transforming the Watermill into the round, flows along at a fine pace with splendidly pointed performances.

Intentionally or not, there’s front-row audience participation as the multiple balls suggesting the duckpond where Ugly hatches are batted back and forth whenever a character splashes or thrashes about in the wet. Francis O’ Connor’s bright and versatile design cunningly conceals just how little space there actually is for a musical – only the wild geese formation-flight seems cramped.

Despite the authors’ light touch, plenty of serious implications are glanced at. Various ages will lock on to different aspects; there’s noticeably adult laughter when mother duck Ida comments to her ducklings on their often-absent father. And there’s something more than platonic friendship under the covers of the two nimby liberals, cat and hen, in privileged comfort.

But any age will pick up the derision Ugly attracts, summed up in the pointed phrases of ‘Look at him’, and its effect on his self-esteem. Mark Henderson’s tall figure suggests ungainliness in his overlong-sleeved pullover, his initial zest as he takes to swimming with instinctive enthusiasm turning to sad isolation as the result of others’ behaviour.

Facing rejection by almost all except the leather-jacketed heavy-metal Cat who pursues him relentlessly, if fruitlessly through his voyages, Ugly has only his mother’s love; she’s hatched him so she loves him. Verity Quade’s determined Ida, characterful and finely-sung, makes a strong ally.

Then, near the end, there’s Simon Slater’s comic, confident bullfrog, who takes life as it comes, with patter to give even Tommy Cooper a leap for his money. And finally Honk turns into Hunk, rising in shining new guise to be united with his swan’s-down love Penny and reunited with his mother. So strong’s the Stiles and Drewe feelgood factor by now that this recipe for domestic disaster seems a happy ending. As it is in this infectiously-played production.

Ugly: Mark Anderson.
Turkey/Greylag: Alexander Evans.
Grace/Dot/Lowbutt: Allison Harding.
Ida: Verity Quade.
Cat: Philip Reed.
Henrietta/Penny: Sioned Saunders.
Drake/Bullfrog: Simon Slater.
Maureen/Queenie: Claire Storey.
Ducklings/Goslings/Froglets: Louis Kendall-Ford, Aislinn Cooling, Gwen Douglas, Miranda Porter/Grace Link, Emilia Robinson, Dominic Rocca, Catriona Suttie.

Director: Stephen Dexter.
Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Lighting: Lawrence T Doyle.
Sound: Gary Dixon.
Musical Arranger/Supervisor: Sarah Travis.
Assistant director: Harriet Mann.

Sponsor: Horsey Lightly Fynn.
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